Once a turtle starts crossing the road, it may or may not be a long, drawn-out odyssey.

Turtle Rescue League

But it's certainly dangerous. Countless turtles lose their lives while crossing roads. Especially at this time of year.

Turtle Rescue League

"We are literally smack-dab in the middle of what we call the turtle season around here," Natasha Nowick, founder of New England-based Turtle Rescue League, tells The Dodo. "It roughly centers around the nesting season where they are coming out of the water and leaving their typical habitat and looking for areas that are bright, sunny and often on hills where they can bury their eggs for incubation."

Turtle Rescue League

The journey to those hills is long and perilous, often crisscrossed with pavement. And turtles are generally completely oblivious to the dangers.

"They are so singularly focused," Nowick says. "This time of year they are just walking across yards; they have no fear of humans because they have an impulse to nest on their mind."

"Honestly, if you move quickly enough, the turtle won't even notice you picked them up until they are safely on the other side of the road."

Turtle Rescue League

Many people who see a turtle in an egg-bearing daze mistake it for docility and take the animals home as pets — "which is the very last thing a nesting mother turtle needs."

What a turtle might need, however, is a helping hand.

box turtle


If you see one trying to cross the road, there are a couple of things you can do. The easiest, Nowick says, would be to "play traffic crossing guard" and hold back cars until the turtle completes her trek.

Painted turtle

Another option would be to just pick up the animal and carry her to the other side.

The key, Julie Maguire of Turtle Rescue of Long Island tells The Dodo, is to get the turtle to the right side of the road.

"Always help a turtle cross the road by placing it on the other side of the street in the direction it was heading," she says.

But have a good look at the turtle first.

"If the turtle has a crack in the shell, do not place [him] in water," Maguire explains. "If there's a puncture in the lung, the turtle can drown, so best to just put any injured turtle found in a small box just a bit larger than the turtle, lined with paper towels or newspaper. Close the lid and keep in a quiet place until help is found."

"If a turtle is found with an injury and you can't find a rehabber to take the turtle right away, there are many vets that will treat wildlife without charge," she adds. "Just be sure to give them the location of where the turtle was found so it can be released to the same area. "

And be careful.

Snapping turtles, despite their daunting name, are especially fragile.

"In the case of snapping turtles, never, ever pick [one] up by the tail," Maguire explains. "This can break their spine causing terrible injury."

If you think the snapping turtle is injured, she adds, the best thing to do is to take him to a local wildlife rehabilitation center.

officer and snapper

"Use caution by grabbing by the back of the shell and placing on a car mat or other object it can be dragged on if it's too large to pick up."

And what about the, ummm ... snapping part? Well, that's an unfortunate misnomer.

"Snapping turtles are one of the most misunderstood turtles," Nowick says. "Anyone who gets to work with them finds out that, of all the turtles, they are the biggest babies."



Indeed, a snapping turtle will snap at the air, mostly as a show to deter predators.

"They have no desire to connect with you because that means they are connecting with a much larger animal and they will be stuck with you for a while," Nowick says.

They also only eat in water. So it's not like they're particularly hungry for human flesh. Or any flesh at all.

"Snapping turtles themselves will only eat their body weight once in an entire year," she notes. "For an adult snapping turtle, over 80 percent of the diet is vegetative matter. And its entire weight will only be consumed once a year."

So don't let the snap stop you from helping out a turtle in need. Although they may not know it at the time, every turtle you see on the road could use a friend.